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Flexible working is not anti-office, it’s pro-choice

People who work flexibly have long been accused of being 'anti-office'. That's just not true, many flexible workers love choosing to visit the office when it works for their work and their lives.

3rd Apr 2024

What’s the landscape of remote vs in-office?

Over the past year, we’ve seen a 22% increase in jobs that are remote-first on Flexa.

Our recent Flexa100 awards also demonstrate this, with 64% of the most flexible companies offering a remote-first policy. In a remote-first setup, employees primarily work from home but have the option to use an office or coworking space if necessary or when they want to. And let’s not forget the many companies making a success out of hybrid working.

This shift signals a move away from the traditional debate between in-office versus work from home, showing that there is still a place for offices in the realm of flexible working. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

What it does need to be about, however, is choice. By removing the option to work from home, companies are instantly creating barriers for employees. Flexible working is a spectrum and not a one-size-fits-all solution. If more companies embrace a pro-choice way of thinking, we can get closer to creating more diverse and inclusive workplaces.

What is a return-to-office mandate?

A return-to-office mandate means all employees have to return to working in an office for at least part of the week.

Some companies have incorporated this mandate into their hybrid working policies, specifying certain office days per week or month. However, there are increasingly more instances occurring where employees are mandated to return to the office for the full five working days, without any room for flexibility.

Why are companies demanding employees back to the office?

With the demand for flexible working on the rise and over half a million UK employers now offering remote working you may ask, why are companies introducing RTO mandates?

It’s certainly not based on data, or a desire to create a more diverse, inclusive workforce…

I think there are some ulterior motives behind the demand for a full-time RTO.

Here are some of them:

✂️ They can reduce headcount without formal redundancies

Companies know that by implementing a return-to-office (RTO) mandate many employees will have no choice but to leave the company. We've already seen that approximately 5,000 Boots employees have updated their LinkedIn status to 'open to work,' and it's likely that many more will follow suit. In creating these RTO mandates companies can avoid redundancy processes, associated payouts and bad PR, whilst still reducing headcount.

💤 There is an internal bias that WFH = lazy

Despite research consistently showing us that remote working does not negatively impact productivity, there remains a belief among companies that working from home is less productive. When such biassed opinions trickle from the top down, they influence determinative decisions such as RTO mandates. Almost two-fifths (38%) of organisations report that increased remote or hybrid working has in fact enhanced their productivity and efficiency.

🌍 Leaders don’t know how to manage a distributed team

There's no denying that remote work differs from in-person work. Therefore, the way we manage remote teams must also change. If managers fail to grasp this concept from the outset, remote employees are left with little chance of thriving in the workplace and managers are unable to hit targets. It’s not the working environment that’s failing, it’s the lack of management training.

🫰Onerous leases and a lack of awareness of the sunk cost fallacy

Sunk costs refer to expenses that have already been incurred and cannot be recovered. And in this context, we're referring to the lavish offices that companies have invested significant funds in but are now underutilised. By making employees return to the office, companies attempt to justify these expenditures, even though the move fails to benefit the organisation or its employees.

3 Reasons why RTO mandates are a step in the wrong direction

As you may have seen in my recent post, return-to-office mandates have stirred up quite the conversation lately. One that isn't going away anytime soon. What's important to understand in this debate is what is at stake, especially when it comes to employee well-being and creating inclusive workplaces.

🙅 RTO mandates are not inclusive

It's not that employees don't want to return to the office; for many, it's simply not possible. This particularly affects working mothers, who often bear the brunt of childcare responsibilities, as well as individuals with disabilities, caregivers, and many others. Without flexible working arrangements, these employees feel they have no other choice but to leave the company, which can as a result impact their well-being and mental health.

💜 RTO mandates are not pro-choice

Flexible working isn't anti-office, it’s pro-choice. I personally enjoy spending 2-3 days a week in our office, alongside some of my team and my dog Gruff. This arrangement works well for me, but it may not suit everyone. Some of the Flexa team prefer to work mostly from home and only visit the office once a week or even once a month. However, one thing we all have in common is the freedom of choice.

🤝 RTO mandates take away employee trust and autonomy

By dictating where employees must work, you're immediately stripping away their autonomy. You're essentially saying you don't trust them to work in a way that suits them. If companies focused more on outcomes, they would realise just how little impact four walls have on what employees can deliver.

How to shift the focus from ‘where’ to ‘how’

If your company is considering implementing a return-to-office mandate, I would suggest pausing to think about why.

Will this decision impact productivity? Will it exclude certain employees? And how might it affect employee well-being?

By shifting your focus away from location and looking deeper into how your teams are working, you may be surprised to see how much more of a difference you can make. Here are a few steps to help you get started.

1. Understand your employee's needs - This may sound like a simple first step, but ask your teams how they prefer to work, and most importantly why. This will help you discover the unique needs and requirements your team members have and help you put a flexible policy in place that works for everyone (including the company!)

2. Check and adapt your existing flexible working policies - Start by looking at your company's current policies, culture, and infrastructure to spot areas that could support flexible working arrangements. Think about factors such as job roles, technology requirements, and communication processes. Remember that flexible working is more than just remote vs in office!

3. Check you have the right tools and systems in place - When you're managing a flexible team, having the right tech, tools, and processes is key. They not only make managing easier but also let you stay connected and collaborate smoothly with your team.

4. Train your managers and leadership teams - Managers have no choice but to step up their game when managing flexible working teams, as remote teams are in fact different from in-person teams. By giving your managers training and guidance you will create a better working environment where employees can thrive.

5. Shout about your flexible working policies - If you’re already offering flexible working arrangements you need to be shouting about them to attract top diverse talent. By using a platform like Flexa, you can make sure you're attracting aligned talent who value your ways of working.